Dozens of cover songs flood radio stations every year. Sometimes cover versions happen on the spur of the moment during a live concert and other times covers are thoughtfully put together with the hopes of either reviving a band’s popularity or in tribute after the original singers pass away.
Many cover songs have been recorded in different genres to the delight of fans worldwide. These include “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails covered by Johnny Cash, “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond covered by UB40, and “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder covered by Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
That being said, rock covers of well-known songs are immensely popular. On this list are just a few of the songs that have gotten the rock treatment over the years.
10 “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was written in 1966 and first released in 1967 after which it went to number two on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. When Marvin Gaye recorded and released it as a single in 1968, it went to the top of that same chart and stayed there for seven weeks. Gaye’s version was eventually included in the Rolling Stone list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ and covered by several artists.
Creedence Clearwater Revival also got in on the action in 1970 and recorded an 11-minute version of the song for their Cosmo’s Factory album. In this video, they’re performing the song live and putting their unique CCR spin on it.
9 “Heartbreak Hotel” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton wrote “Heartbreak Hotel” with some input from Elvis Presley. Presley recorded the song in 1956 after which it was released as a single that topped several charts for several weeks. It became one of the best-selling singles of 1956 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1995.
The song, believed to be about a man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window, was covered in spectacular fashion by rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, during a tour performance in Atlanta in the early 90s.
8 “The Man Who Sold The World” – Nirvana
David Bowie was one of the most influential music artists of the 20th century. He was known for his dramatic flair and expressed himself through numerous alter egos including Ziggy Stardust. Bowie sold over 100 million records worldwide and received several awards including 6 Grammys. The star died on 10 January 2016, two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his last album, Blackstar.
Kurt Cobain was the legendary frontman of Nirvana and his influence lives on in modern music. Cobain has been credited with forcing music to evolve and he inspired many songs after his tragic death. In 1993, Nirvana covered David Bowie’s song “The Man Who Sold The World” during a performance on MTV Unplugged.
Nirvana went on to perform the song a further 30 times during their final world tour.
7 “Tiny Dancer” – Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana and became the founder of rock band, Foo Fighters, after Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994. The Foo Fighters went on to win 12 Grammys and a host of other awards. Grohl credited Cobain as being an influence on his songwriting saying “Through Kurt, I saw the beauty of minimalism and the importance of music that’s stripped down.”
In this video Grohl covered “Tiny Dancer”, a hugely popular song by the legend that is Elton John, on the David Letterman show.
6 “(Oh) Pretty Woman” – Van Halen
In 1982, Van Halen decided to cover a song by Roy Orbison, “Pretty Woman”, to buy themselves some time to work on their new album. It was going to be a stand-alone song to tide their fans over in the meantime. The band also filmed a bizarre music video for the song, which MTV initially refused to air. The cover song was a huge hit however, and the band’s record label demanded that they release a new album asap. The result was the Diver Down album, which contained a mix of covers and originals. On this video, Van Halen performed “Pretty Woman” live, the way only they could.
5 “Stand By Me”– U2 / Bruce Springsteen
Ben E. King wrote “Stand By Me” and first performed it in 1961. The song became an instant classic and was used on the soundtrack of the 1986 film of the same name. Over the years more than 400 artists covered the song, including John Lennon, Tracy Chapman, Ike and Tina Turner and Meat Loaf.
In 1987, Bono from U2 dislocated his shoulder after he slipped and fell on a wet stage during a performance. This prevented him from playing the guitar for the remainder of the US tour the band was on at the time. Towards the end of their set at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia on 25th September 1987, Bono looked on as a roadie set up a second microphone stand on the stage before he asked the crowd: “…Would Bruce Springsteen like to play my guitar?” When Springsteen came into view, the crowd went wild. Even more so when Bono and Springsteen proceeded to do an awesome cover of “Stand By Me.”
4 “I Feel Love” – Red Hot Chilli Peppers
“I Feel Love” by Donna Summer has been credited as being one of the most influential records ever made and was extremely popular during the disco era. Summer recorded the song in a single take and the result was an awesome dance tune that influenced great artists such as David Bowie and Blondie and was covered by, among many others, Sam Smith.
In 2004, Red Hot Chilli Peppers covered the song complete with unique dance moves and an excellent falsetto done by John Frusciante.
3 “Faith” – Limp Bizkit
Rap rock band, Limp Bizkit’s angry-sounding music was a big deal in the late 90s and early 2000s. After Woodstock ’99 the band became the centre of controversy when they were blamed for riots, fires and assaults that broke out during their set. Their popularity continued however, and the band won several awards between 2000 and 2003.
Long before the drama however, Limp Bizkit made the decision to cover George Michael’s “Faith” in their live performances starting in 1997. Fred Durst told Billboard afterwards “I love George Michael and decided to cover “Faith” for fun. We like to do really aggressive versions of cheesy pop hits.”
Guitarist, Wes Borland, stated at one point that George Michael hated Limp Bizkit’s cover and also hated the band for doing it.
2 “Rolling In The Deep” – Linkin Park
Hybrid Theory is one of the most popular albums in the world. Linkin Park achieved international fame with this album which was released in 2000. For their subsequent albums, Chester Bennington and his bandmates experimented with pop, electronic and heavy rock sounds, which further cemented their success. Fans were shattered in 2017 when the news broke that Bennington had taken his own life, and the band went on a long hiatus before announcing in 2020 that they were working on new songs.
During happier times though, Linkin Park delighted fans in 2011 during the iTunes Festival when they covered “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele. Chester Bennington’s vocals were flawless throughout, and the video of this fantastic performance have garnered almost 50 million views on YouTube.
1 “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Chris Cornell
Chris Cornell was the lead vocalist and guitarist for Soundgarden and Audioslave and he also had a famed solo career. His vocal abilities were outstanding as he possessed a nearly four-octave vocal range and he put it to good use when compiling his extensive musical catalog. Cornell was another great talent lost to suicide on 18 May 2017. He and Chester Bennington were close friends and Bennington performed a moving rendition of “Hallelujah” at Cornell’s funeral. Bennington committed suicide two months later on what would have been Cornell’s birthday, 20 July 2017.
Before Cornell’s tragic death, he gave the world many memorable performances, some of which included covers of several songs including “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles and “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson.
In 2015, he sang an intense version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Prince version) during a live performance at SiriusXM.
+ Dirty Diana
On a bit of a lighter note, and since there are no female rock singers on this list, here is a video of rock band, Evanescence, doing their version of “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson. Evanescence was founded in 1995 by lead singer Amy Lee and guitarist Ben Moody. The band became famous for their hit songs “Bring Me to Life” and “My Immortal” that appeared on their first album, Fallen. That album sold more than 17 million copies. After a hiatus that stretched from 2012 to 2015, the band started touring again and their new (fifth) album is expected in March 2021.